Monday, January 21, 2008

157. Alanis Morissette: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998)

Ah, the album after the squillion-selling smash hit album. Artists generally react to massive success in three distinct ways. 1) They simply try to replicate the previous record. Examples: Michael Jackson's Bad and U2's Zooropa. 2) They make a slightly or significantly better album. Examples: Nirvana's In Utero and Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. 3) They get completely overindulgent. Examples: Oasis' Be Here Now and Fleetwood Mac's Tusk.

Alanis' follow-up to the massive critical and commercial success of Jagged Little Pill falls squarely into the latter category. Not only is it 17 songs long, many of the songs flirt with dissonance and showcase Morissette's tendency to force a lyric to fit a melody.

As with any overlong album there are three categories: 1) the good (which we'll save for last), 2) the neither good nor bad (a majority in this case) and 3) the interesting. As I wrote when I reviewed Robbie Williams' Rudebox, an indulgent album can be a litmus test for an artist. It can either completely kill them or it can make them more intriguing. And Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie definitely does the latter for Alanis. At times it seems she just opened up her journal and started singing, and that leads to a startling sense of voyuerism.

To wit, the first song, Front Row, is about a romance gone wrong. If I'm remembering my rumors correctly, it was supposedly about her failed relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio. Interesting, right? Especially when she says, "I'm in the front row / The front row, with popcorn / I get to see you / See you close up" as though she never did when they were dating. The rest of the song sounds like a spill of words, like someone who has just been through something and hasn't processed it all yet.

The whole record is pretty much like that. Unsent is a collection of letters to ex-lovers. Baba is a '90s version of The Beatles Sexy Sadie, a scathing condemnation of a false prophet. The Couch is an obtuse tale of therapy which may-or-may not be about Morissette's father.

And then there are a few absolute gems, and I'm surprised to find that there's a theme to them. First is Thank U. I was completely enamored of that song when I first heard it. It spoke to me in ways I couldn't quite articulate, except to say that inner calm is something I've always worked toward. I still get chills, because Alanis sounds so heartfelt.

The next standout is That I Would Be Good, a simple, understated (!) song of self acceptance. "That I would be good if I got and stayed sick / That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds." The warts and all flute solo at the end proves the song's point.

Finally, Joining You is cast as a message to an old friend, basically trying to give him/her a bigger perspective on life's problems. While reminiscing about their relationship, she wisely points out that outside labels and inner demons don't define us. Imagine that, Alanis telling someone else to chill!

Despite the high points and the personal insight into Alanis herself, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is not what I'd call a good record. Listening to it all the way through is a chore, and many songs are grating. Even so, I'm guessing that it was a necessary stepping stone for Morissette as an artist. Thankfully, with 10 years of perspective, it's clear that Alanis learned her lesson. The two albums since this one have been strong, focused, and succinct (11 and 10 songs respectively).

Grade: C-
Fave Song: Thank U

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